| NEW YORK, April 28
NEW YORK, April 28 Kate Harding has spent most
of her life on one diet or another, losing weight but always
gaining it back. Determined to improve her quality of life, she
joined a fast-growing group of anti-dieting activists promoting
overweight people's civil rights.
Launching an anti-dieting blog called Shapely Prose,
Harding and other fat-acceptance advocates online -- calling
themselves the fat-o-sphere -- are also educating one another
about how to improve overweight people's health.
She and other bloggers with names like FatChicksRule and
Big Liberty say society's "war on obesity" makes overweight
people hate their bodies and suffer from low self-esteem.
"Being fat doesn't make me lazy or stupid or morally
suspect," said Harding, 34, of Chicago, who also has written a
book, "Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere."
"The message we're promoting is health at every size."
Her blog entries criticize dieting obsessions and ponder
coverage of weight issues in the mainstream media.
Since launching her blog, Harding, who says she is 5 foot 2
inches (1.6 metres) tall and about 195 pounds (88 kg), says her
body image has improved. But she admits wearing a bathing suit
in public "can still throw me for a bit of a loop."
Fat-acceptance advocates are starting to organize to
promote anti-bias laws, encourage tolerance in health care and
the workplace and help retailers recognize the profit potential
of catering to plus-size customers.
"People are just beginning to think about being empowered,"
said Lynn McAfee, director of medical advocacy at the nonprofit
Council on Size and Weight Discrimination.
"The emphasis has just been 'lose weight and everything
will be fine,' and it's becoming really clear that people
aren't losing weight," she said. "So we want to shift the
emphasis to making us as healthy as we can be at whatever
weight we are."
Activists say the movement is beginning to amass some
victories, from larger seat belts in cars to a decision by the
Supreme Court in Canada that obese and disabled people
traveling on airplanes can't be forced to buy a second seat.
The Fox television network is developing a reality show
featuring "average looking" people called "More to Love,"
billed as a "dating show for the rest of us."
The National Association for the Advancement of Fat
Acceptance, a civil rights group formed in 1969, has found new
life as fat-acceptance advocates gain force online.
There are now more than 50 fat-acceptance blogs and more
than a dozen books promoting the idea, from Linda Bacon's
"Health at Every Size" to Wendy Shanker's "The Fat Girl's Guide
to Life." There are even romance novels featuring plus-sized
characters with names like "Dangerous Curves Ahead."
But the dominant view remains that overweight people should
be focused on losing weight.
Some two-thirds of Americans are considered overweight or
obese. Cities across the country have declared wars on obesity,
calling it a costly public health crisis that increases the
risk of heart disease, type two diabetes and certain cancers.
Obesity-related health care cost upward of $100 billion a
year, research shows.
There are no U.S. laws prohibiting weight discrimination,
and only one state, Michigan, has an anti-weight bias law.
Legislatures in Massachusetts and Nevada have taken up
size-bias bills, but similar efforts have failed in recent
Weight discrimination is pervasive, said Rebecca Puhl,
director of research at Yale University's Rudd Center for Food
Policy and Obesity.
An "obesity wage penalty" -- larger employees getting paid
less regardless of job performance -- is widespread, and
research shows overweight people are less likely to land a job
or be promoted than a non-obese worker, she said.
"We do need to fight obesity, but not obese people," said
Puhl. "Individuals ... who are discriminated against because of
their weight are more likely to engage in unhealthy eating
behaviors and avoidance of physical activity."
Anecdotal evidence also suggests overweight people avoid
trips to the doctor out of fear of being mocked.
According to NAAFA, about 70 percent of overweight and
obese women have experienced bias from doctors. Others complain
of being turned down by health-insurance companies.
Bloggers in the fat-o-sphere track cases of discrimination
they say go uncovered in the mainstream media.
Just recently, United Airlines, a unit of UAL Corp, said it
will require obese passengers bumped from full flights to
purchase two seats on a subsequent flight. That would match the
policies of other carriers, including Continental, Delta,
JetBlue and Southwest Airlines.
SEXY AT ANY SIZE
Deb Malkin, 39, considers herself a fat-acceptance advocate
but leaves the political battles to others.
Instead, in what she describes as a labor of love, Malkin
has opened ReDress, a plus-sized vintage clothing boutique in
New York's Brooklyn borough.
Housed in an airy 3,000 square-foot (280 square meter)
space, ReDress sells frilly dresses, formal gowns and jeans,
all in size 14 and up.
One recent afternoon, shoppers carried armloads of clothing
to spacious dressing rooms, while sales assistants compared the
comfort of ReDress to the more typical shopping humiliations of
"There's a whole indy fashion world that we don't have
access to," said Malkin. "I think women just come in here and
are so excited."
Bevin Branlandingham, who considers herself a fat activist,
has worked in Malkin's store since it opened in November.
Sorting through lingerie, a frock from the 1960s and a
colorful size 22 dress by Calvin Klein, Branlandingham said she
likes to help women overcome hatred of their bodies.
Branlandingham, who is partial to dresses with plunging
neck lines, says she discourages women from buying so-called
goal outfits that are too small and instead pick out things
that flatter their figures.
"I feel like my life's mission is to make the world safer
for people to love themselves no matter what their
differences," she said.